Market Report: Sequence poses nightmare as blue chips take breather

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The Independent Online
After last week's heroics it was inevitable that blue chips would pause for breath. At one time it seemed a full scale retreat could be under way but in the event the FT-SE 100 index fall was a modest 1.8 points - almost in line with dividend payouts.

Whether the first day of Sequence, the latest Stock Exchange computerised refinement, had any impact on Footsie's performance was unclear. According to the Stock Exchange the pounds 81m system had started "extremely well; we are delighted with such a successful launch".

But around trading screens the atmosphere was far less ecstatic with dealers grumbling about the problems the latest technological creation had produced. Said one: "It's been a bleedin' nightmare ... the system is completely up the wall."

Another said: "We've had difficulty inputting; it's just not working whatever the Stock Exchange might say".

A Reuters breakdown added to the confusion although dealers refused to lay the blame for the Sequence hiccups on the information provider.

The Stock Exchange, wisely, opted for a low-volume day to introduce its latest offering. The Tuesday after a Bank Holiday is a notoriously low-key session and yesterday's turnover, although inflated by big trades in some third-liners, was suitably thin.

Sequence is initially aimed at speeding up dealings particularly in AIM and SEATS shares. Although telephone trading remains an option, orders can be placed on screen and executed.

The changes are an example of the dealing shape of things to come; the new system is due to be extended to embrace majors' shares.

After the Taurus settlement system disaster the Stock Exchange could be forgiven for regarding an up-and-running Sequence as a success.

As Footsie faltered the second-string index kept up its winning streak, enjoying its 19th consecutive gain. Progress, however, was modest, just 3.5 points to 4,428.3.

Pearson, as break-up bid hopes resurfaced, was the best-performing blue chip, up 19p to 683p. A favourable US court judgment took some of the pressure off BAT Industries lifting the shares 10.5p to 436.5p and Rolls- Royce, following its recent run of new orders and ahead of tomorrow's results, rose 5p to 230.5p. Hanson, due to reveal more demerger details today, added 2.5p to 162p and BSkyB's remarkable progress continued with a 10.5p gain to 588.5p, another peak.

The long-fermenting beer deal left Allied Domecq 3.5p firmer at 453.5p but Bass dipped 5.5p to 836.5p. Prudential Corporation, confirming speculation it had found a buyer for its Mercantile & General reinsurance arm, gave up an 8.5p gain as profit-takers moved in to leave the price unchanged at 437p.

Archie Norman's reduced role at Asda and stripping out a dividend payment clipped the superstores chain 4p to 115.5p. Lloyds Chemists added 7.5p to 498.5p anticipating the resumption of takeover action. WH Smith, figures today, fell 15.5p to 515.5p on fears of a cash call.

Railtrack, after its strong dividend-inspired run, reversed 14p to 240p as the shares went ex- a 13.75p dividend. Prism, the little railway operator, chugged ahead 35p to 300p after winning two more rail franchises. The shares arrived on AIM at 200p in June.

British Airways, however, lost height as the scheduled UK/US open skies talks were shelved, putting further pressure on the airline's proposed deal with American Airlines. The shares lost 11p to 519p.

Dawson group, the truck and trailer rental group, advanced 17.5p to 152.5p as director Peter Dawson purchased 100,000 shares at 124p. Last week the company disclosed a 19.7 per cent interim profits setback.

Darby, a glass group, gained 27,5p to 109.5p after confirming it had received a bid approach. Some expect a statement tomorrow.

Melrose, the oil tiddler, gained 6p to 50.5p. It has emerged as the latest with Russian ambitions. Talks are taking place which could lead to a "significant" oil and gas investment. There are suggestions its intended Russian partners will pump cash into the venture. An upbeat Gulf of Mexico drilling report fuelled British Borneo 20.5p to 566.5p.

Wiggins, the property group, firmed 9.5p as Dutch industrialist Maurice Smulders picked up 3.8 per cent. He wants to talk about joint ventures. Mentmore Abbey rose 2.5p to 82p after confirming it was the signalled bidder for British Data Management, off 1.5p to 178.5p.

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